Afghan Star

Music doc that pulsates rhythm in the classic sense

Afghan Star

It would have been easy for U.K. journalist and TV producer Havana Marking to turn her feature documentary debut "Afghan Star" into a weepy, patronizing view of a Third World nation's people rising above their travails by means of song.

But Marking's surprisingly astringent film resists such temptations even while following four heartbreakingly brave finalists in the hugely popular "American Idol"-like talent show the film takes its name from, a melodramatic arc if there ever was one. Maybe it's Afghanistan itself, a beautiful but stark landscape that doesn't leave room for such softness. There's also the songs being performed, pulsating with garment-rending romantic hyperbole -- "The bend of your eyebrows is like the sting of a scorpion" is one illustrative example -- that would baffle your average "Idol" contestant.

At the crowded, jury-rigged Kabul studio where "Afghan Star" is filmed, there is no room for pampered prodigies. The finalists Marking follows in riveting fashion are all pulsating in the classic sense, seeming to carry the entire weight on their shoulders of their families and respective ethnic groups (all come from different parts of the country).

The two energetic young men, Rafi and Hameed, have it hard enough, spending most of their time convincing the public to text-vote for them during the next episode. The intensity of these campaigns with street teams and posters, rivals the most hard-fought election, a point driven home when one man notes that these frantic operations are the only democracy many young Afghans have known.

Barred by their gender from cadging votes, the two female finalists, Lima and Setara, have to rely just on their performance of overwrought love ballads in front of a charged studio audience. But as in any televised reality competition, nobody wins by talent alone.

In a country driven by religious radicalization, the mere appearance of an Afghan woman on television can mean trouble. (Marking cleverly deploys footage of Kabul circa 1980, when women walked the street without veils.) Having two women in competition turns the show into a referendum on the state of the nation.

The fact that Setara is outspokenly independent and even dances during her performance makes her supposed immodesty the subject of vigorous street debate. Given the level of passion that Marking captures with her roving camera, it is sadly no surprise when Setara receives death threats after merely letting her veil slip off her head while singing.

Although sadly rife with gut-clenching moments as those, "Afghan Star" is most thrilling when depicting the show's delicately balanced effort to bring Afghans together despite their fractious ethnic and clan boundaries. Wholly one-third of the country, some 11 million people, watched the finale. Marking's film is too astute to pretend that such fleeting things can bring about peaceful democracy, but it's also perfectly aware that they certainly can't hurt.

— C. Barsanti, Hollywood Reporter

Afghan Star

Fri October 9, 2009, 7:00 & 9:00, Muenzinger Auditorium

Afghanistan, 2009, English, Color, 87 min, Not Rated, 1.85:1, DV-CAM



10 films for $60 with punch card
$9 general admission. $7 w/UCB student ID, $7 for senior citizens
$1 discount to anyone with a bike helmet
Free on your birthday! CU Cinema Studies students get in free.


Pay lot 360 (now only $1/hour!), across from the buffalo statue and next to the Duane Physics tower, is closest to Muenzinger. Free parking can be found after 5pm at the meters along Colorado Ave east of Folsom stadium and along University Ave west of Macky.


Park elsewhere and catch the HOP to campus

International Film Series

(Originally called The University Film Commission)
Established 1941 by James Sandoe.

First Person Cinema

(Originally called The Experimental Cinema Group)
Established 1955 by Carla Selby, Gladney Oakley, Bruce Conner and Stan Brakhage.

C.U. Film Program

(AKA The Rocky Mountain Film Center)
First offered degrees in filmmaking and critical studies in 1989 under the guidance of Virgil Grillo.

Celebrating Stan

Created by Suranjan Ganguly in 2003.

C.U. Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Established 2017 by Chair Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz.

Thank you, sponsors!
Boulder International Film Festival
Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Looking for a gift for a friend?
Buy a Frequent Patron Punch Card for $60 at any IFS show. With the punch card you can see ten films (a value of $90).

Cox & Kjølseth
: Filmmaker Alex Cox & Pablo Kjølseth discuss film topics from their own unique perspectives.

: Pablo and Ana share Zoom-based briefs on what's currently playing at IFS

Search IFS schedules

Index of visiting artists

Sun Mar 10, 2024

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

At Muenzinger Auditorium

Mon Apr 1, 2024

Hot Shots! Part Deux

At Muenzinger Auditorium

more on 35mm...